This is the answer to keeping your skin youthful. (Photo: Arthur Belebeau/Trunk)
The biggest skincare ingredient of the moment isn’t some space-agey-sounding new peptide or algae sourced from the depths of the oceans. No, the latest “It” ingredient has actually been around for a while, and you might even find it in your basic body moisturizer: it’s that trusted standby hyaluronic acid (HA), and it’s suddenly everywhere, from face creams to serums and even drinkable beauty products. The best part? Topical HA-based skincare will help bring that youthful dewiness back to your skin.
Hyaluronic acid is a sugary, gel-like substance that’s naturally found in the body and is plentiful in young skin. It’s what keeps skin hydrated and plump, as it can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. But, like all good things, such as collagen and elastin, the production of HA declines as we age. “By the age of 40, you produce half as much hyaluronic acid as you did in your twenties,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman.
Inspired by the proliferation of the beloved moisture-drawing molecule found in many Korean beauty regimens (where a coveted glow and bouncy skin abounds), along with its popular use as a wrinkle-filling injectable, hyaluronic acid has surged to beauty greatness, joining the ranks of gold standard ingredients like retinol and vitamin C.
The ingredient’s surge in popularity also has to do with its strides in technology: while previous iterations incorporated molecules too big to penetrate the skin, the newest products boast lower density formulations that more easily penetrate the skin’s layers. Read: plumped-up, smooth and juicy skin and fewer wrinkles. “HA has always been a large molecule that could not penetrate into the skin,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’kita Wilson. “Newer innovations include smaller forms of HA that allow penetration into the skin, promoting water retention from the inside instead of just the surface. This means that lines can be ‘pushed out’ from the inside.”
Hyaluronic acid gets top billing in Murad Professional’s Eye Lift Firming Treatment ($68), where encapsulated microspheres instantly “fill” the surface of the skin to smooth fine lines, while the sponge-like molecules also penetrate further into the skin for lasting plumpness. Meanwhile, Demarché Labs touts the results of in-office injectables with its new Fullfill Hyaluronic Acid Topical Wrinkle Filler ($89), which is said to penetrate the deepest layers of the skin, build natural volume and reduce deep wrinkles over time. Bioactive skincare brand Farmacy’s Invincible Root Cell Anti-Aging Serum ($65) uses three different HA molecule weights to seal in moisture, support antioxidant production, and boost collagen and elastin to firm and combat fine lines and wrinkles. Other brands, such as Shiseido’s new Bio-Performance Glow Revival range and Shu Uemura’s Deepsea Hydrability line, also tout the hydrating power of HA within their respective skincare cocktails.
While it’s not specifically an anti-aging ingredient, few ingredients can compare to HA’s moisturizing potential, and healthy, hydrated skin is key for anti-aging products to work their best – something that Korean women know all too well. “Hydration is a cornerstone philosophy in Korean skincare,” says Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of online K-beauty store Peach & Lily. “It’s the foundation of a healthy skin environment. [HA is] especially effective in serums, ampoules and essences where it’s supposedly more absorbable versus creams that sit on top of your skin and create a ‘sealant’ effect.”
That said, there is some evidence to suggest that the new multi-weight HA formulas may actually stimulate new collagen production, and in turn, fight aging. But Dr. S. Tyler Hollmig, the director of laser and aesthetic dermatology at Stanford Healthcare, remains skeptical. “More studies are needed to show that it has a real biological effect.” Jaliman agrees: “When you moisturize the skin, you make fine lines look better. But a true anti-ager stimulates collagen production.”
Another player at the forefront of skincare’s HA revolution is Toronto-based beauty incubator Deciem, which produces the skincare brands Hand Chemistry and Hylamide, and Fountain, a range of drinkable beauty supplements. “We have researched HA very extensively and today use 10 different molecular weights for building water density at many layers of the skin, as well as novel technologies that actually encourage your own production of HA within the body,” says company founder Brandon Truaxe. To add to its growing roster of supplements, Fountain just released the 10X Hyaluronic Acid Molecule beauty supplement featuring low molecular (10,000 Da) HA derived from the snow mushroom. (Cool back story: Snow mushroom was used as far back as the Tang dynasty in Imperial China, where a concubine by the name of Yang Guifei ate the prized fungus to maintain her youthful glow.) “Ingested HA builds a cushion under the skin and further lubrication within the joints and eyes,” says Truaxe, and in turn plumps the skin from within. And drinking your HA may not be such a bad idea, says Jaliman: “Studies show that ingesting hyaluronic acid helps to moisturize dry skin.” Whichever form of HA you choose, be it topical, ingestible or injectable you can expect plumper, younger skin.